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UK gov outlines student planning for Christmas

Students studying at universities in the UK will be able to return home for Christmas, in a carefully planned “corridor” of opportunity between Dec 3-9.

Travel will be planned with universities collaborating to reduce the impact on transport networks. Photo: iStock/coldsnowstorm

"That includes wellbeing support, mental health support and the basics like food"

The UK government has unveiled its plans which will see widespread testing of students when the current lockdown period ends on December 2.

Tests will be offered to as many students as possible, with universities in areas of high prevalence prioritised, the Department for Education confirmed.

“We  are delivering on our commitment to get students back to their loved ones”

The UK government has also acknowledged that a cohort of students – including international students – may not seek to return home and so it has asked universities to provide additional help and practical support for such students.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today program, universities minister Michelle Donelan said, “We’ve asked them to produce a plan for those students that choose to stay on campus or in their university areas.

“That includes wellbeing support, mental health support and the basics like food and ensuring that this is a good and positive break for these students, even if they’re not celebrating Christmas.”

Universities are being told to move learning online by December 9 so students can continue their education while also having the option to return home to study from there.

A Universities UK spokesperson commented, “We welcome the government’s ambition to enhance testing capacity for university students and staff, and are pleased that universities have helped shape their plans by sharing experience from their own testing regimes and participating in pilots.

“For a major roll out of asymptomatic testing to be successful, universities now need clear assurance of the effectiveness of the tests as well as further details from the government on specific responsibilities under the proposed scheme including the governance, indemnity, resourcing and costs recovery.”

Donelan commented, “We know this Christmas will feel  different, and following this incredibly difficult year, we are delivering on our commitment to get students back to their loved ones as safely as possible for the holidays.

“We have worked really hard to find a way to do this for students, while limiting the risk of transmission. Now it is vital they follow these measures to protect their families and communities, and for universities to make sure students have all the wellbeing support they need, especially those who stay on campus over the break.”

The DfE noted the government has provided over £9 million to leading mental health charities to help them expand and reach those most in need, as well as working closely with the Office for Students to provide up to £3 million to fund Student Space, a new mental health support platform.

The department  also worked with the Office for Students to clarify that providers were able to use existing funds, worth around £23 million per month for April to July this year and £256 million for Academic Year 2020/21, towards hardship support.

Chief executive of the Russell Group, Tim Bradshaw, said the confirmation of the government’s position on the end of term was welcome, “however a mandatory cut-off date for in-person teaching to deliver a ‘student travel window’ does create practical challenges for universities”.
“We call on government to work with the sector to provide clear guidance on how it believes the return to campus in the New Year should be managed to ensure students face as little disruption as possible to their ongoing studies and professional qualification requirements,” he said.

“Providing students with the opportunity to travel home for Christmas has been a key priority for the sector and we are pleased to have worked collaboratively with Welsh Government and stakeholders in the development of this approach,” chair of Universities Wales Julie Lydon added.

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